Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms
Vladimir Horowitz. Sony Classical. October 1, 2003 marks the 100th anniversary of Vladimir Horowitz’s birthday, and Sony Classical has just released these two collections which should cause music lovers around the world to celebrate in his memory. Horowitz has gone down in history as the most innovative and enduring of all 20th century pianists, and with the help of these records, we hear just why. Set In, a 3 disk collection produced by Grammy award winner Thomas Frost, perfectly demonstrates the wide range of Horowitz’s playing: this record presents a melding of the pianist’s hard-honed Russian roots with the soft romanticism of his muse as he works his way through classic interpretations of works by Beethoven, Chopin, Clementi, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Scarlatti, Schumann and Scriabin (the recordings themselves were made over a 27 year span, beginning in 1962).
Horowitz, a 25 time Grammy- winner who died in 1989, was known across the globe as a masterful pianist whose blood poured across the keys as he played. Horowitz’s was a music that came from within — from a silent and invisible pool that paid homage to a angels and pursued the infinity of the lord. His music was a magic potion of melody and unnamed sources of imagination, and it commanded the loyalty of his audience who fought to drown in this holy storm of love in these beautiful electric thimbles of inspiration. Although Horowitz is known as a “classical” pianist, his works are timeless, and the deep lines of his influence is heard in many a modern player, including Doors’ pianist Ray Manzarek, Bruce Hornsby, and the Heartbreaker’s Benmont Tench. Once you hear the first notes of Set In, these connections become obvious.
Live and Unedited, on the other hand, is quite a different kind of record. It’s an as is and unedited memorialization of Horowitz’s 1965 performance at Carnegie Hall. Live and Unedited is a historic recording in itself — for it puts back all the mistakes and missed notes that had been erased from the original release of this concert: “Horowitz often told me that his live performances, although never note-perfect, represented the pure spontaneity of his art more faithfully than his recordings ever did,” said Peter Gelb, the President of Sony Classical who managed Horowitz’s career in the 1980s. “And yet, apparently in this case, he couldn’t resist the idea of putting out anything less than a note-perfect recording, even though substantial doctoring was required. We are therefore pleased to offer Horowitz fans the true performance for the [very] first time.”
What’s so spectacular about this record is that the beauty and mastery of Horowitz’s playing comes shining through the rough edges so clearly: it’s as if we’re being given the rare chance to climb in his skin and share in the moment of creation — no over-dubbing, no sound engineer magic, no high-tech computer tricks. This is the moment of the musician on his stage bleeding out in the open without the benefit of shadows to seclude him. This is the pure moment of creation randomly captured on tape. Live and Unedited is akin to the way Kerouac allowed the spontaneous mind to take over his poems and novels and stories. Passionate. Honest. Soul deep. River deep. Beyond eyes superseding consciousness. Anyone who listens to this album goes back to Carnegie with Horowitz in 1965, bearing witness to the perfect birth of song. Best cuts include Chopin’ “Mazurka” in C-Sharp Minor, and Schumann “Träumerei” (No. 7) from Kinderszenen.
REALITY. David Bowie. Iso Records/Columbia. David Bowie’s new album Reality is a hard edged rock and roll record deeply influenced by the terrorist attacks on New York City in 2001. Bowie, who lives in New York, has used those events to bring a modern-day relevancy to this music — the beat tinged with rage, the vocals biting and toothy, lingering at the edges of the mind like a half read dream. Reality, produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti, is a record that reminds us that Ziggy is still a vital and vibrant artist delivering a message with his music. The refreshing thing about Reality is that Bowie is moving forward as a player — instead of resting on his legendary reputation, he continues to push the limits of the boundaries, investigating the state of America and his place here. Much like Springsteen’s balls-blasting The Rising, which looked at 9-11 from each unpleasant angle, Bowie has given us a record that forces each of us to look back at those assaults and re-evaluate how they changed us and the course of our country. In the end, Reality is about examining how the subtleties of life inhabit the shadows before they suddenly pounce on us – unannounced and all-consuming. This is an important record with wonderful and inspired musicianship (especially Mike Garson’s keyboarding). Standouts include “Never Get Old” and “Try Some, Buy Some” (a cover of a George Harrison piece).
BEAT AVENUE. Eric Andersen. Appleseed Records. Eric Andersen was part of the emergence of the “singer-songwriter” in the 1960s and, along with Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, John Stewart and Ramblin Jack Elliot, Andersen’s work has not only withstood the test of time but has grown more alluring.
Andersen’s music –like that of the aforementioned writers– is deeply poetic, rooted in folk, blues and mid-sixties rock and roll. With Beat Avenue, Andersen presents his strongest record in years, expanding on the themes he first began chronicling over 40 years ago. Beat features an all-star band, including Eric Bazilian on guitar, Shawn Pelton on drums and Garth Hudson (formerly of The Band) on sax, accordion and keyboards. Beat is rich with many wonderful songs (especially the searching “Song For You and Me” which comes on like a storm, its sorrow born in the hollow ache of changing love). Also notable are “Rains Are Gonna Come,” “Salt On Your Skin” and “Under The Shadows” (as each of these 14 pieces build into each other like the separate scenes of a movie, building and growing, until we have drawn a full picture of this song-poet on his journey through our times).
Still, the best cut on the record remains the title track — a 26 minute epic that recounts the events of November 22, 1963: the day President John Kennedy was gunned down. Andersen, only 20 years old at the time, was holed up in Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s house in San Francisco, socializing with Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure and David Meltzer following a Ginsberg reading earlier that evening. “Beat Avenue,” which took Andersen 15 years to write, is a testament to how deeply Kennedy’s death affected a generation: In the hollow orange flicker of a bullet hope dissolved into despair and the path of a nation was permanently changed. And “Beat Avenue” captures it all — holding the listener spellbound for nearly half an hour as we go back in time to re-examine ourselves and the state of our own lives.
Eric Andersen is a magnificent songwriter whose work defies all labels and categories. Moreover, Beat Avenue shows that Andersen is a survivor: a man who has withstood the impact of social and artistic change and emerged even more inspired. In the end, this record should serve as a model for all other singer-songwriters trying to “break in.”
DROP THE DEBT. Various Artists. World Village. Similar to Putumayo World Music, World Village is a label interested in producing records that talk about our cities and towns and our place within them. More than just putting out music for the radio station “hit cycle,” World Village is devoted to making an impact on our lives and the way we interact with society. Accordingly, the label’s catalog over-flows with many worthy selections, including Drop The Debt.
This August 2003 release serves as a fund raiser and features a group of international musicians coming together in an effort to change world policy regarding debt collection. Many developing nations are shackled by old obligations that see the majority of their capital used to repay loans instead of allocated toward the betterment of their people. According to United Nation reports, most developing nations spend more money on the repayment of government debt than they do in support of education, health and social service programs for their citizens. As a result, people in places like Africa literally starve in the streets because their limited resources are used to feed creditors.
The artists on Drop came together to bring attention to the plight of these hidden nations, focused on the possibility that world debt policy can be changed in the interest of Man. Inspired by the thought of being able to stop the suffering and death for millions of faceless people, the players on Drop have presented us with some awesome performances. Chico Cesar of Brazil simply steals the record with “ll Faut Payer,” a magnificent piece that draws the listener from his chair and suspends him in mid-air: lost in the sweet echoes of song, we have suddenly transcended nations and politics and government agendas. Additionally, Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi speaks as the conscience of his people and his nation with the beautiful “Murimi Munhu.” Sally Nyolo’s chilling “Tilma” is also memorable, as is Soledad Bravo’s “Gracias a la vida,” which closes the record.
Like a choir in a church summoning the mercy of God through private prayer, this CD calls us to re-examine the systems of government that have, in effect, remodeled “nations” into debtor’s prisons – these places where the innocent and the sick and the haunted die in the streets of the world anonymously. Drop The Debt sets out to give them all faces and names.
SUMMER. Summer. Odyssey. Borrowing her name from the season –“Summer”– this classically trained soprano is likely the brightest star rising over the second half of 2003. With a voice that imbeds itself into the memory like the edge of a knife, Summer has come out blazing with her Odyssey debut that features 12 songs (note the wonderful keyboarding by Richard Cottle, who’s played with Mick Jagger and Vanessa-Mae among others, and the sensitive and unobtrusive production work of Nick Patrick).
“Summer” is quite a rich record, giving us everything from Vivaldi to Sting — and with striking results: Even though many of these pieces are covers, the singer manages to make them hers, wrapping herself around the echo of each piece, inviting it deep into her flesh. More than being technically on, Summer sings with spirit, compelling the sleepy to sit up in their chairs. At once, feet begin to tap and hips quiver until numb. Suddenly, we are lost in her voice, lost in the empty perfection of the music as it ebbs and flows and rises: “I wanted to do something different,” Summer says reflecting on her record: “Seeking[ing] out pieces from around the world and blend[ing] them into a new mix.”
Summer. The name is about the season. And the music is about passion — everything from a sensual rendition of Sting’s “Fragile” to an eerie and enchanting “Nella Fantasia,” which is based on Ennio Morricone’s beautiful score for “The Mission.” However, the high-point remains Stanley Myers “Cavatina,” from the film the “Deer Hunter.” As the simple lyric comes into full bloom, Summer’s haunting vocal takes us back to Cimino’s 1978 epic, bringing us back into De Niro’s presence: A woman sits alone and remembers the lover with whom she’s lost touch. And as the memory takes hold of her heart, I watch the ghost she cannot see: the haunted deer hunter moving through the dark timber, running swiftly into those smoke poisons of war, running and slipping, trying to escape the demons that end as the shape of his own reflection in the mirror.
Summer comes to us a unique voice, most edgy and piercing, yet still so soft and comforting: like a driving rain across the thirsty desert sands at dawn.
In a recent interview, Summer spoke to the Electric Review from her home in the UK, speaking about her album and vision as a musician.
Although Summer is still in her mid-twenties, she brings a magical presence, singing with the polish of a veteran performer. Above all else, her voice is a statement of individuality and spirit and purpose: seeking a sweet place in the light, maintaining this perfect sense of the self.
From the age of 3 or 4, my parents made a commitment to give me as many opportunities as possible. I was raised with a wide spectrum on life — sports, drama, music. Music was the base of the triangle that I thrived on. One of my main influences was travel, and learning different languages. But the “study” of music was never planned, it just happened. I think there’s a perception that classical singers are born with “Mozart” in our mouths, but that’s not always the case. It wasn’t the case with me.
My father worked in local government and my mother was a chiropodist. My parents always supported me in what I did, and gave me all the opportunities they never had. Dad left home at 16 and worked his way through local government positions. Mom left home at 13 to care for her parents. They created a life for me that was estranged to them — this appreciation for the arts, theater, music.
Well, I trained as a classical singer for 6 years, but I was also aware of modern composers and musicians as well. When I was in training, I was doing classical concerts and then at night going out and hearing different music in clubs — things with rich earthy Moroccan rhythms. At one point, I got the idea to bring some of this to my work, putting an album out which had everything on it. To me, the most important thing is to maintain respect for the music, for all the “classical” pieces, and for the other compositions as well (like the Sting song). My mission was is to keep within the music and maintain respect for it — whatever the piece may be.
I’m in collaboration with different people right now and plans are tentatively set for a tour in 2004.
I can speak in these terms for the UK, but I don’t know enough about the over-all “vibe” of America to talk about it. In the UK, there has been an explosion of knowledge about good music. Ever since the Beatles introduced stringed orchestras to their records, people here have been more open to variety. People don’t just wear jeans and a T-shirt. Some days they might wear a suit. And they should be the same with music — open to variety and to hearing different kinds of things.
Actually everything, it depends on what mood I am in. I like U2. I absolutely adore Sting’s music, I like the Moroccan rhythms on his records. He came over a couple of months ago and heard my album and loved it. He’s very open to different styles and different approaches.
Classically my icons are Rene Fleming, Rita Streich and Joan Sutherland. I guess artists in general who are still around today after over 30 or 40 years in the business are influences. People like Elton John, and The Rolling Stones. It’s exciting to see someone reinvent themselves and come up with great stuff after so long.
As a songwriter, I’ve just started to explore different approaches. As I said, I like Sting and U2. And of course classical performers like Pavarotti and Jane Sutherland. Although these people are not writers, their interpretations of pieces is mind blowing, they’re actually living through the pieces as they perform them.
There are 3 facets of works that comprise the album: film works, pure classical and modern day classics which have been influenced by the bohemian culture. I wanted the album to be a melange of moods from one ‘bookend’ to another – a whole experience. Actually, over time, I have been able to compile a repertoire, a catalog. Wherever I go in the world, if hear something in a boutique or on my errands, I find out what it is and jot it down, then I learn it if I can. Obviously, I love all music, especially what we call ‘medicine for the voice’ — Mozart, Donizetti, Vivaldi. It was important for me to get some of those stunning pieces heard, like the Strauss. Looking back, I think the rendition of “Aranjuez” sums up the whole album for me: you never know where it’s going to go, since it starts in a very soft way. And it was the realization of a dream to have such great players like Miles Bold and Dominic Miller (Sting’s musicians) to help bring the piece alive in that bohemian Morrocan way.
After having traveled to places like Italy and France at such a young age, I learned it was important to converse with the audience, be it an audience of 1 or of 10,000. My job is to show the audience what each word and phrase means. No matter what the language, it all comes down to feeling at the end of the day. What’s important to me is the music. And music is music. Doesn’t matter when or where it is written, it just matters that you keep respect for the composer. My mission is to open up ears and minds to new things without any preconceptions of what they should sound like.
“and a song is a storm (catch) the rhythm
of the rain as she falls”
In her world
Is a song
Of “blood candor”
Death with music
Ghosts have come
Back to life
Of wild rivers
Swam the darkness
Out to God
In the bright
Of her breath
Of ancient seas
Through the history
And golden blood
Of the dead
She performs them —
GRATEFUL DEAD: THE CLOSING OF WINTERLAND. Monterey Video. An incredible double DVD with over six hours of footage, The Closing captures the quintessential 60s garage jammers in the city where it all started. This film memorializes the Dead’s performance at the farewell show that closed Bill Graham’s Winterland Arena on New Year’s eve in 1978. Less stilted and staged than The Last Waltz, The Closing is about the spontaneity of the music and the relentless drive of the band — Garcia, Weir and company are in fine form on this evening and the crowd belongs to them. It’s a historic moment and everyone present seems to understand that they are bearing witness to the end of an era (the funeral procession come to bury a trusted and dear friend). In retrospect, Winterland was the last of the bay area’s intimate halls where bands could enjoy a personal exchange with their audience. This fact, coupled with those eerie dark and ghostly acoustics, made a show there a transcendental event. The Closing brings us back in time through a series of rolling meditations — the Dead’s unique rock and roll poetry a truly introspective experience. As a bonus, some cooking R&B cuts from the Blues Brothers Band are included (featuring Belushi, Aykroyd, Duck Dunn and Paul Schaefer). Additionally, the between set discussion between Weir, Mickey Hart and novelist Ken Kesey is absolutely captivating — a recollection of the city and people and place that influenced our music and collective conscience.
DON’T LOOK BACK. BOB DYLAN. A Film By D.A. PENNEBAKER. Pennebaker/Hagedus Films and Ashes & Sand. Distributed By New Video. This is the collector’s edition video of the seminal rock and roll documentary that gave the public its first celluloid glimpse into the music and mystery of Bob Dylan. Bar none, Don’t Look Back is the best music film ever made, as it captures the young Dylan at his finest hour, on the road in Europe in 1965 performing wonderful acoustic versions of “Tambourine Man,” “Don’t Think Twice” and “To Ramona” (among others). Don’t Look Back, which intersperses concert footage with “scenes from the road,” is an absolutely wonderful display of the young master’s depth, humor and poetic presence, while Pennebaker’s direction remains a thing of beauty: confident in his material, the director just sits back and lets it all unfold before our collective Eye. This “documentary” has countless hallmark moments, including one special scene where Dylan is flanked by the shadowy image of a bearded and dark-eyed Allen Ginsberg — symbolic of the way he was able to blend the vision of the Beats with music to create a new poetry. The collector’s edition features commentary from Pennebaker, as well as Dylan’s former road manager, Bob Neuwirth. Although it has deep meaning for Dylan freaks and sixties flower children, this is a movie that will have broad appeal to rock and roll fans of all ages: along with Elvis and the Beatles’ invasion of America, this was what it was all about.